Elvis a lo Mexicano

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When people think of Elvis, they remember the hip shaking, charismatic singer in a sparkly jumpsuit with slicked black hair and side burns who passed away on August 16, 1977. There have been many impersonators since his death, but there is one who outshines all the rest, and who adds spicy jalapeño flavor to the name Elvis. His name is El Vez. Elvis’s Mexican counterpart has been touring the U.S. on a Cinco de Mayo tour, coincidentally landing in New York during the same week as CBS’s four-hour miniseries “Elvis by the Presleys.”

Born in Chilavista, CA, East L.A., Robert Lopez, a.k.a. El Vez, has been doing his act since 1988. It all started after taking part in an Elvis impersonator contest while working as a curator at an art gallery, La Luz De Jesús, on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. He was such a success that he went on to Elvis Tribute Week in Memphis, where he competed in another Elvis impersonator contest.

“The next day, it was in the L.A. Times that a Mexican Elvis made it to the finals,” says El Vez.
Ever since then, people have been asking for more. How could they resist a guy who is a cross between Zorro and Elvis singing songs with titles like, “Viva la Raza” (instead of “Viva Las Vegas”) and “En el Barrio” (replacing “In the Ghetto”)?

On Saturday, May 14th, El Vez performed with his band “The Memphis Mariachis” and “The Elvettes” (two back-up singers, Lisa Maria and Priscillita) at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan, after playing at Brooklyn’s Southpaw on Wednesday night.

Mercury Lounge was packed. I was hot and claustrophobic waiting for the show to start, apparently on Latino time, but my exasperation was quickly forgotten once El Vez danced onto the stage.

He joked, “People say that I’m nostalgic, because Cinco de Mayo was last week, but my goal is to make it last ten days.”

The last time he came to New York was in November during his “El Vez for Prez” tour, when he performed at The Knitting Factory and Southpaw. He made reference to that trip, saying that he was going to run for president again during the next election against Hillary Clinton and give the U.S. back to Aztlán, the portion of Mexico that was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846.

Not only are his lyrics very creative, but he sounds just like Elvis with your eyes closed, he does splits on stage, and his outfits seem to get louder with every passing song. Starting out with a Mexican charro outfit in patriotic red, white and green, he then moved on to a black one with white stitching, and then to a white wife beater with black and white shimmery stretch pants, and then a feathery Aztec costume.

The climax of the show, I would have to say, was when he came out in a tiger print jumpsuit made out of stretch polyester, a big black leather belt with leather studs and chains, and black cowboy boots, declaring, “I’m your Tigre del Norte.” He then started singing the song “Suspicious Minds,” but with the lyrics, “I’m caught in a trap/I can’t walk out/Because my foot is stuck in this border affair/We can’t go together/It’s immigration time/The Promised Land waits on the other side/Why can’t you see?/ Liberty…”

With over 17 years of touring all over the U.S., Europe, and Australia, and 13 albums under his huge gaudy belt, I asked El Vez if he felt a resemblance to the King of Rock n’ Roll. He said, “Well, the idea of entertaining, but I think I like to make my shows more political than Elvis ever did. However, we both have sideburns and influence lots of people with music.”

I admit that prior to the show, I was afraid that El Vez was going to be some cheesy, Las Vegas-like act, but he definitely impressed me, and I now understand why people wait for him every year and follow him all over the world.

Peter Caravella, a fan of seven years from New York, said to me on the way out, “I am going to be a fan for the rest of my life. Wherever he goes, I go.”

All I can say is, “Watch out Hillary, here comes El Vez!”

To keep track of where El Vez is headed next, and for some interesting merchandise, check out www.elvez.net.